Verses 17–19

I. God put marks of his displeasure on Adam in three instances:—

1. His habitation is, by this sentence, cursed: Cursed is the ground for thy sake; and the effect of that curse is, Thorns and thistles shall it bring forth unto thee. It is here intimated that his habitation should be changed; he should no longer dwell in a distinguished, blessed, paradise, but should be removed to common ground, and that cursed. The ground, or earth, is here put for the whole visible creation, which, by the sin of man, is made subject to vanity, the several parts of it being not so serviceable to man’s comfort and happiness as they were designed to be when they were made, and would have been if he had not sinned. God gave the earth to the children of men, designing it to be a comfortable dwelling to them. But sin has altered the property of it. It is now cursed for man’s sin; that is, it is a dishonourable habitation, it bespeaks man mean, that his foundation is in the dust; it is a dry and barren habitation, its spontaneous productions are now weeds and briers, something nauseous or noxious; what good fruits it produces must be extorted from it by the ingenuity and industry of man. Fruitfulness was its blessing, for man’s service (Gen. 1:11, 29), and now barrenness was its curse, for man’s punishment. It is not what it was in the day it was created. Sin turned a fruitful land into barrenness; and man, having become as the wild ass’s colt, has the wild ass’s lot, the wilderness for his habitation, and the barren land his dwelling, Job 39:6; Ps. 68:6. Had not this curse been in part removed, for aught I know, the earth would have been for ever barren, and never produced any thing but thorns and thistles. The ground is cursed, that is, doomed to destruction at the end of time, when the earth, and all the works that are therein, shall be burnt up for the sin of man, the measure of whose iniquity will then be full, 2 Pet. 3:7, 10. But observe a mixture of mercy in this sentence. (1.) Adam himself is not cursed, as the serpent was (Gen. 3:14), but only the ground for his sake. God had blessings in him, even the holy seed: Destroy it not, for that blessing is in it, Isa. 65:8. And he had blessings in store for him; therefore he is not directly and immediately cursed, but, as it were, at second hand. (2.) He is yet above ground. The earth does not open and swallow him up; only it is not what it was: as he continues alive, notwithstanding his degeneracy from his primitive purity and rectitude, so the earth continues to be his habitation, notwithstanding its degeneracy from its primitive beauty and fruitfulness. (3.) This curse upon the earth, which cut off all expectations of a happiness in things below, might direct and quicken him to look for bliss and satisfaction only in things above.

2. His employments and enjoyments are all embittered to him.

(1.) His business shall henceforth become a toil to him, and he shall go on with it in the sweat of his face, Gen. 3:19. His business, before he sinned, was a constant pleasure to him, the garden was then dressed without any uneasy labour, and kept without any uneasy care; but now his labour shall be a weariness and shall waste his body; his care shall be a torment and shall afflict his mind. The curse upon the ground which made it barren, and produced thorns and thistles, made his employment about it much more difficult and toilsome. If Adam had not sinned, he had not sweated. Observe here, [1.] That labour is our duty, which we must faithfully perform; we are bound to work, not as creatures only, but as criminals; it is part of our sentence, which idleness daringly defies. [2.] That uneasiness and weariness with labour are our just punishment, which we must patiently submit to, and not complain of, since they are less than our iniquity deserves. Let not us, by inordinate care and labour, make our punishment heavier than God has made it; but rather study to lighten our burden, and wipe off our sweat, by eyeing Providence in all and expecting rest shortly.

(2.) His food shall henceforth become (in comparison with what it had been) unpleasant to him. [1.] The matter of his food is changed; he must now eat the herb of the field, and must no longer be feasted with the delicacies of the garden of Eden. Having by sin made himself like the beasts that perish, he is justly turned to be a fellow-commoner with them, and to eat grass as oxen, till he know that the heavens do rule. [2.] There is a change in the manner of his eating it: In sorrow (Gen. 3:17). and in the sweat of his face (Gen. 3:19) he must eat of it. Adam could not but eat in sorrow all the days of his life, remembering the forbidden fruit he had eaten, and the guilt and shame he had contracted by it. Observe, First, That human life is exposed to many miseries and calamities, which very much embitter the poor remains of its pleasures and delights. Some never eat with pleasure (Job 21:25), through sickness or melancholy; all, even the best, have cause to eat with sorrow for sin; and all, even the happiest in this world, have some allays to their joy: troops of diseases, disasters, and deaths, in various shapes, entered the world with sin, and still ravage it. Secondly, That the righteousness of God is to be acknowledged in all the sad consequences of sin. Wherefore then should a living man complain? Yet, in this part of the sentence, there is also a mixture of mercy. He shall sweat, but his toil shall make his rest the more welcome when he returns to his earth, as to his bed; he shall grieve, but he shall not starve; he shall have sorrow, but in that sorrow he shall eat bread, which shall strengthen his heart under his sorrows. He is not sentenced to eat dust as the serpent, only to eat the herb of the field.

3. His life also is but short. Considering how full of trouble his days are, it is in favour to him that they are few; yet death being dreadful to nature (yea, even though life be unpleasant) that concludes the sentence. “Thou shalt return to the ground out of which thou wast taken; thy body, that part of thee which was taken out of the ground, shall return to it again; for dust thou art.” This points either to the first original of his body; it was made of the dust, nay it was made dust, and was still so; so that there needed no more than to recall the grant of immortality, and to withdraw the power which was put forth to support it, and then he would, of course, return to dust. Or to the present corruption and degeneracy of his mind: Dust thou art, that is, “Thy precious soul is now lost and buried in the dust of the body and the mire of the flesh; it was made spiritual and heavenly, but it has become carnal and earthly.” His doom is therefore read: “To dust thou shalt return. Thy body shall be forsaken by thy soul, and become itself a lump of dust; and then it shall be lodged in the grave, the proper place for it, and mingle itself with the dust of the earth,” our dust, Ps. 104:29. Earth to earth, dust to dust. Observe here, (1.) That man is a mean frail creature, little as dust, the small dust of the balance—light as dust, altogether lighter than vanity—weak as dust, and of no consistency. Our strength is not the strength of stones; he that made us considers it, and remembers that we are dust, Ps. 103:14. Man is indeed the chief part of the dust of the world (Prov. 8:26), but still he is dust. (2.) That he is a mortal dying creature, and hastening to the grave. Dust may be raised, for a time, into a little cloud, and may seem considerable while it is held up by the wind that raised it; but, when the force of that is spent, it falls again, and returns to the earth out of which it was raised. Such a thing is man; a great man is but a great mass of dust, and must return to his earth. (3.) That sin brought death into the world. If Adam had not sinned, he would not have died, Rom. 5:12. God entrusted Adam with a spark of immortality, which he, by a patient continuance in well-doing, might have blown up into an everlasting flame; but he foolishly blew it out by wilful sin: and now death is the wages of sin, and sin is the sting of death.

II. We must not go off from this sentence upon our first parents, which we are all so nearly concerned in, and feel from, to this day, till we have considered two things:—

1. How fitly the sad consequences of sin upon the soul of Adam and his sinful race were represented and figured out by this sentence, and perhaps were more intended in it than we are aware of. Though that misery only is mentioned which affected the body, yet that was a pattern of spiritual miseries, the curse that entered into the soul. (1.) The pains of a woman in travail represent the terrors and pangs of a guilty conscience, awakened to a sense of sin; from the conception of lust, these sorrows are greatly multiplied, and, sooner or later, will come upon the sinner like pain upon a woman in travail, which cannot be avoided. (2.) The state of subjection to which the woman was reduced represents that loss of spiritual liberty and freedom of will which is the effect of sin. The dominion of sin in the soul is compared to that of a husband (Rom. 7:1-5), the sinner’s desire is towards it, for he is fond of his slavery, and it rules over him. (3.) The curse of barrenness which was brought upon the earth, and its produce of briars and thorns, are a fit representation of the barrenness of a corrupt and sinful soul in that which is good and its fruitfulness in evil. It is all overgrown with thorns, and nettles cover the face of it; and therefore it is nigh unto cursing, Heb. 6:8. (4.) The toil and sweat bespeak the difficulty which, through the infirmity of the flesh, man labours under, in the service of God and the work of religion, so hard has it now become to enter into the kingdom of heaven. Blessed be God, it is not impossible. (5.) The embittering of his food to him bespeaks the soul’s want of the comfort of God’s favour, which is life, and the bread of life. (6.) The soul, like the body, returns to the dust of this world; its tendency is that way; it has an earthy taint, John 3:31.

2. How admirably the satisfaction our Lord Jesus made by his death and sufferings answered to the sentence here passed upon our first parents. (1.) Did travailing pains come in with sin? We read of the travail of Christ’s soul (Isa. 53:11); and the pains of death he was held by are called odinai (Acts 2:24), the pains of a woman in travail. (2.) Did subjection come in with sin? Christ was made under the law, Gal. 4:4. (3.) Did the curse come in with sin? Christ was made a curse for us, died a cursed death, Gal. 3:13. (4.) Did thorns come in with sin? He was crowned with thorns for us. (5.) Did sweat come in with sin? He for us did sweat as it were great drops of blood. (6.) Did sorrow come in with sin? He was a man of sorrows, his soul was, in his agony, exceedingly sorrowful. (7.) Did death come in with sin? He became obedient unto death. Thus is the plaster as wide as the wound. Blessed be God for Jesus Christ!